Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Proposed retirement system fix is ‘unacceptable’

I love my job. I get to go to work every day and interact with my students at Middlebury Union Middle School, where I’ve taught for 16 years. It is a busy job, one with challenges and messes and the occasional beautiful, perfect moment. Each day, there is something to celebrate and something — or someone — to worry about, some problem to solve. There are meetings and assignments to grade, and always, always someone who needs help.
The reason I can focus on this job — this complex, inspiring, difficult job — is because I have put my faith in a promise that I believed in. A promise that I would not have to worry about making ends meet many years from now when I retire. A promise that if I do what is required of me, the State of Vermont will contribute its part to the teachers’ retirement system in return. A promise that now, it appears, might crumble.
I understand that there are long-standing issues in the Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System, but Beth Pearce’s proposed solution — increasing our contribution rates, decreasing our benefits, and eliminating cost-of-living adjustments — is completely unacceptable. It is unjust, putting current Vermont teachers in a position of having to fix a problem they did not create. Teachers have done their part, contributing 5-6% of our salaries each and every paycheck. Why should we bear the burden of fixing a problem that has existed before many of us started teaching? Why punish the people who have done what has been asked of them without fail?
I would never, ever do this to my students.
Vermont is a place for independent, creative thinkers; ingenuity abounds here. I believe this, and I see it in my students on a daily basis. Vermonters are smart, hard-working people who care about our neighbors, take care of each other, and figure out inventive ways to solve problems that do the best amount of good and the least amount of harm. Just taking more from teachers is neither inventive nor ingenious.
In a recent Vermont Public Radio article, “State Treasurer Seeks ‘Painful’ Cuts To Retirement Benefits For Government Workers,” Hirschfeld (1/15/21) writes that the proposal stands to harm over 8,500 of us who teach in this state and “it would eliminate cost-of-living adjustments entirely for nearly 10,000 public school teachers when they become eligible for retirement benefits.”
At a recent “town hall” meeting with local legislators and 83 of my ACSD colleagues, Peter Conlon, an ACSD school board member, Vermont Representative and ranking member of the House Education Committee, advised teachers to “come to the table” as talks get further underway about how to solve this pension problem. While I appreciated the time Conlon and the other legislators took to hear our concerns, I was perplexed by his recommendation.
Does “come to the table” mean we should help lawmakers brainstorm creative solutions that uphold the promises given to us? Or does “come to the table” suggest we should be willing to give up what is rightfully ours? If it’s the latter, I don’t want a seat. I shouldn’t have to worry about my pension. I have paid every dollar ever asked of me.
I told you I love my job. That is the truth. And this letter? It’s a simple plea to Governor Scott and our legislature: Please keep your promise so I can do what I love with integrity and an untroubled mind. Let me focus on my students and what they need now, not worry about the uncertain future of my retirement.
Do the right thing.
Eileen Sears, MA, NBCT
Language and Literature
Middlebury Union Middle School

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